Day 6 once again offered a strong pair of films, one of which I've had a pretty massive change of opinion on.
Made in U.S.A. (1966); viewing: Second
Godard's 1966 Made in U.S.A. received a single showing in the U.S. at the '66 New York Film Festival, before settling into obscurity in the states for over 40 years, tied up in legal matters over adaptation rights, before finally being given deluxe treatment from the Criterion Collection with a superb DVD release in 2009. The film (dedicated in its credits to directors Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller) is supposedly based off the novel The Jugger by the late, great crime fiction writer Donald E. Westlake, and opens with Paula Nelson (Anna Karina, in her last starring role for Godard), investigating the death of her lover in an undeniably French version of Atlantic City (inhabited by characters named Mizoguchi and Richard Nixon and streets named Preminger), having arrived there to meet him and learning that he has very likely been killed. Paula sets out for answers, and encounters many shady individuals along the way, eventually getting drawn deeper and deeper into a thick web of political conspiracy that produces more mysteries than answers as the body count steadily ratchets up. This ubiquitous sense of ambiguity and mounting inscrutability recalls the other major influence on Made in U.S.A., Howard Hawks classic film-noir The Big Sleep.
To be perfectly honest, I didn't care much for this film the first time I saw it. It was one of the first few Godard's I watched, and while the slim running time (85 minutes on the dot) and vibrant imagery got me through the viewing, the plot utterly lost me halfway through, thus turning on the autopilot and leaving me with really nothing to hold onto when all was said and done. Being much more familiar with Godard's style now and armed with the knowledge that you actually have to - get this- pay really close attention during these films, I settled down for another viewing with a clean slate and open mind, ready to absorb every image and sound produced from this challenging work. And challenging it is. In fact more so than any other Godard I've seen to this point, Made in U.S.A. demands that you pay rapt attention to every detail; and even then, like The Big Sleep, I'm fairly sure you're not really supposed to understand everything that's happened. What I suspect made the film much more digestible for me this time around was being able to somewhat separate the stuff you're supposed to grasp from the stuff you just have to let go. Coming at it from this angle - and subsequently not overwhelming myself with the desire to understand everything- resulted in what was, quite surprisingly, one of the breezier and more sheerly enjoyable viewing experiences I've had during this marathon yet.
This is not to suggest that there isn't significant weight attached to this work; if Godard was just getting his feet wet in the political pool with Pierrot le fou and Masculin, feminin, then he dunks his head completely under the water with Made in U.S.A. Godard's anti-capitalist and anti-consumerist sentiments are as distinct as ever, and the film is very much wrapped up in the political happenings of the moment, with quite a few references to matters such as the Mehdi Ben Barka affair. Occasionally the movie even devotes single shots lasting a few minutes to a simple tape recorder playing back a long winded, leftist diatribe spoken by Paula's dead lover, Richard (the voice of Godard). Even when some of this stuff went over my head, Made in U.S.A. is so ripened with unique, stunning imagery and the most complex sound design I've heard in a Godard picture yet, that on a purely sensory level I was never less than fully engaged. But make no mistake about it, there are plenty of wonderful (and wonderfully coherent) sequences contained in Made in U.S.A., and while it may not be the most accessible Godard film of the 60's, I think its dense, challenging nature is very much a part of its ultimate appeal. It's a film you have to work with, but it makes the rewards all the more sweeter. I am shocked at how much a second viewing changed my feelings on this work.
2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967); viewing: Second
Here, on the other hand, is a film that needed no second viewing from me to confirm its greatness; however, watching 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her for a second time did in fact prove to be every bit as rich and mystical of an experience as I had remembered. Filmed at the same time as its predecessor Made in U.S.A., 2 or 3 Things... is ostensibly about Juliette Janson (Marina Vlady), a Parisian housewife and mother who doubles as a prostitute during the days to supplement her consumerist-driven desires. She treats both the dishes and clients as equal tasks, handling each with a quick and cold efficiency, and while she's not giving herself (and the viewer) dense philosophical abstractions to ponder, Godard whisks the camera away from her to show us a Paris under constant reconstruction, and to whisper into our ears his own thoughts and musings on everything ranging from politics to groceries to the very creation of the Earth itself. The latter being contained in an absolutely brilliant sequence where Godard ruminates and quotes literature over a closeup shot of a swirling cup of coffee that seems to contain no less than the entirety of the universal cosmos.
It's a difficult film for me to talk about quite frankly, so rich and layered is it with ideas and digressions and gestures that even after two viewings, I feel as though it's not nearly enough to grasp everything being presented here. But it's effect on me has been profound nonetheless; rarely does one see a movie that is so totally engrossing on both an intellectual and sensual level as 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her is; it's borderline hypnotic in its effect. The film opens in bold style, first introducing us to Vlady the actress and giving us a few details about her, before cutting to introduce her now in character as Juliette, and one gets the sense that they could likely be one and the same, and that it may not matter which we perceive her as, and that at any point in the film it very well could be either of them speaking to the camera. The movie also has fun playing with the question of who the eponymous "Her" could be; Godard announces in the opening that it is, of course, Paris. But the subsequent playful introduction of Vlady/Janson immediately calls this into question, and the sheer scope of the film's subjects may even suggest the the "Her" could refer to something far grander. This film is also notable to me for, among other things, introducing the exquisite Juliet Berto, for whom I will always harbor a monumental crush on. It's only fitting that her sole sequence, in which she has a conversation with Julliete's husband in a diner, is one of the very best in the movie. 2 or 3 Thing I Know About Her is an absolutely wonderful film, perhaps the most beautiful and poetic Godard I've seen yet, and I count it as the third true masterpiece I've watched at this point in the marathon after Contempt and Pierrot le fou.